Jonnie Bolland (Stockport Crusaders/VFM) R.I.P | TRIBUTE
If you’ve ever been to a scooter rally promoted by VFM, been hassled into getting a legshield banner, encountered the Stockport Crusaders or bought scooter merchandise from Crusader then Jonnie Bolland has had an influence on your life.
Like many people from within the scooter scene, this was a man who loved a party, but John was more than that. As an organiser, promoter and entrepreneur he was part of the engine that powered the UK scooter scene from the dark days of the early 1990s to become the vibrant and diverse beast it is today.
In recent years Jonnie Bolland suffered from a degenerative lung disease which prevented him from taking part in the scene he loved. Sadly he passed away on 8th of December 2016.
Many of us owe a debt of gratitude to John’s influence. SLUK would like to celebrate his life with excerpts of an interview I did with him back in 2006.
“If you were ever a mod or a skinhead – and you were a proper one – then you never lose that feeling inside.”
What was your first interest in scooters?
That came in 1979 through a guy that I used to work with. He was an original 1960s mod and used to tell me I was a mod, and I’d argue the toss with him. We were all football lads and we called ourselves Perry Boys – I think that was something unique to Manchester and maybe Liverpool. We used to wear Fred Perry shirts, Levi jeans and desert boots. We had side partings and short hair when everyone else had long hair. Basically we were mods before we knew we were mods. Then scooters started appearing around our area and that kindled an interest.
When did you start riding them?
My first scooter was an LI 150 bought in July ’79. I had to put a wanted advert in the Manchester Evening News because it was that hard to get hold of them at the time. I got my mate to spray it purple and he said, “We’ll call it Purple Haze”. I said, “Fine, whatever”. I’d never heard the record at the time.
When did first notice other mods?
I think it was when we went to watch Manchester City play in Belgium and a lot of the older lads were dressed in parkas. At the same time you’d pick up NME and read about Mod’s Mayday and other things in the press. The Specials and 2-Tone burst onto the scene at the same time and it all came exploded in the summer of ’79 for me. Like a lot of other people I did my first rally on the train to Blackpool in 1979. There were me and 50 others there – and probably only 20 scooters – but we thought it was amazing to find that many like-minded people.
When did you begin to meet more mods from your area?
Well I’m from Manchester but we quickly discovered that there was a thriving scooter scene in nearby Stockport. They’d continually been in the local paper for fighting with bikers. We lived over the border but we’d never crossed into Stockport before – there was a local rivalry and we couldn’t go there – but as soon as you went down there on a scooter you were accepted as one of them.
What were the origins of the club?
In the late ’70 Stockport already had a massive scooter club – Stockport Substitutes – but they were mostly older lads – aged 21 or 22 – who were Northern Soul based. I don’t think they liked us coming into their world and thought we were trouble-causing idiots. We formed our own club in 1979 – I think we were called the In Crowd for a couple of weeks before we heard about Harrogate In Crowd. Then we changed our name to the Stockport Crusaders and it’s stuck ever since.
What was your first rally and how did it affect you?
The first one on a scooter was Scarborough 1980. I went on my LI but on the way I thought to myself, “I’ve got to sell this when I get back.” It was too slow and everyone left me behind. We set off with 50 scooters from Stockport and everyone had left us within five miles, all going in different directions. I ended up asking in a petrol station still in Manchester which was the way to Scarborough. All I knew was that it was in Yorkshire.
As an 18 year-old lad going across the country to Scarborough and finding 10,000 scooters there – it was absolutely phenomenal. There were thousands of us: 18-year olds running round all night, not sleeping for days and causing mayhem. You couldn’t get served in any pubs so we’d be outside the off-licences all the time.
Up until that rally everyone loved us. You could pull the girls in the pubs with a scooter, but after Scarborough 1980 when the resort got smashed up and it was all over the headlines then nobody wanted to know you. The local pubs kicked us out and people were spitting on you. I went into work afterwards and everyone was giving me grief as if it was me personally that had rioted, all on my own. The whole attitude towards mods seemed to change after Scarborough 1980.
How rough was it being a mod/scooterist in the early years – did you ever fear for your life?
Continually! It was unbelievably rough. People got pulled off scooters and stabbed. Scooterists nowadays don’t remotely appreciate how easy it is and how acceptable it has become to ride a scooter. In 1980 our club used to meet every night of the week and at least four of those nights there would be a fight to be had somewhere. If we weren’t fighting football lads we were fighting punks, or bikers. We were like the international police force round here because everyone used to call us into their fights. We had the numbers – and a lot of idiots – in our club, so other clubs would call on us for help.
One lad called Graham had his scooter torched and blown up, but we found out who did it and in those days we’d just all go round their house and sort it out. It was exciting and I wouldn’t swap those memories for the world, but it really is much better now.
Who were your natural enemies at the time?
It was always bikers. Not the proper older bikers who never bothered you, but the younger motorcyclists on Yamaha RD250s and Fizzies. They were always the soft lads at school – the equivalent of the modern Power Rangers.
“The only rule is no rules”
When was the Stockport Crusaders Club at its largest, and how has it survived so long?
We’ve always had peaks and troughs of membership. I think we were largest in the late 1980s when we had almost 80 members. It’s lasted because we’ve never paid subs or had rules and regulations – we have always been more of a club of mates. The only rule is no rules.
Were you the original “d’ya wanna buy a banner?” man?
I suppose so. I work as a printer for a firm doing t-shirts and stuff, and that came about when I had nothing to do at work. I saw a ‘Mods’ legshield banner on a scooter on the cover of Jetset so we did some banners for Morecambe in ’82. Me and another lad went halves on them and they sold really well, which surprised me. It eventually came to the stage where half of the club relied on selling the banners to go on the rallies because a lot of them were on the dole. A guy called Pooly was the main man who used to go around the campsite trying to flog them.
What is the strongest memory of your formative years as a mod/scooterboy?
One of my best memories is captured in that photo that was recently re-used in Scootering of when we all met up to go to Morecambe and there seemed to be hundreds of Manchester area scooterists riding together.
In this area we never really had the strong mod/scooterboy split in the early years that you had down south. We were scooterboys, but we were mods at the same time. It was never a conscious change and we just sort of evolved when we stopped wearing suits. I’m still a mod at heart though. If you were ever a mod or a skinhead – and you were a proper one – then you never lose that feeling inside.
The Manchester area spawned bands like the Stone Roses (including Mani, Ian Brown and John Squire) who had some connections with the scooter scene. What are your memories of these people?
Mani always used to go around cadging money off people to go on rallies. Ian is a funny lad. He is one of the best dancers to 2-tone that I’ve ever seen – I mean in a Chas Smash style. John Squire was just sort of there. I think what summed him up for me was a sticker on the back of his Snetterton that said “Honk if you like Madness”. I never thought any of them would ever become rock and roll stars.
Who else do you know from the scooter scene that went on to become famous or really successful?
I supposed the other one was Steve Harrison – the manager of the Charlatans. He was from Cheshire Midnight Runners and a really good friend. I still see him at football occasionally and on the odd rally. Oh and of course we’d see Steve Berry on rallies with his dad, making little films.
“I never thought any of them would ever become rock and roll stars.”
Did you ever get to do any scooter promo that did pay?
We’ve done Top Gear and a UB40 video. Mostly you spend the whole day fannying about for a tenner; which isn’t my idea of fun. We did one though where we lent a couple of scooters for promotion of a boxing match in Manchester between Prince Naseem and Billy Hardy. I took my Rally along and my mate took his SX. To start with Hardy sat on my Vespa but Naseem told him to get off. He was the champ and he wanted to sit on my scooter. I thought that was brilliant of course because I love Prince Naseem as a fighter. We got well paid for that and some free tickets to the bout. I didn’t go and see it though because there was a rally on that weekend.
What is your favourite rally destination, and why?
Whitby’s my favourite resort, but probably from a memories point of view it would be Yarmouth when we were all on St Nicolas car park and there were the nighters in Tiffany’s. That was where scootering came of age – in the mid-80s when the whole car park was packed with scooters and there were masses of dealers that we’d never seen before.
Are there any disastrous scooter journeys that spring to mind?
Going to Great Yarmouth in 1982 and running out of petrol as many people used to do. In them days they didn’t make many petrol stations. We decided to kip in this petrol station in the wilds of Lincolnshire. Just by chance we managed to find a caravan round the back that was unlocked so the four of us decided to sleep in that. We got woke up by this farmer – who also owned the petrol station – his massive friend, a big Alsatian dog and three friendly coppers who promptly arrested us. Once they realised they couldn’t do us for breaking and entering – because the door had been left open – they decided to charge us with theft of half a bottle of lemonade which had been left in the caravan. I was guilty of that so we faced missing a scorching Bank Holiday stuck in the cells. Eventually we got booted out of the police station in the morning and told to clear off. Back at the petrol station the farmer refused to sell us any fuel so we had to push the scooters five miles to the next one. Actually Ian Brown was with us for that one. Just a typical scooter journey…
Who is the best band/artist you’ve ever seen perform on a rally?
It has to be Edwin Starr. Not only was he such a great performer but he loved the scooter scene as well. I remember listening to Radio 2 on a Saturday morning when he was on as a guest. The last record in his set he dedicated to all his friends in the scooterboy world. He recounted how he’d been told not to play rallies but he did because we were his kind of people. He didn’t have anything to gain from saying that. There’s a lot of bands who do the rallies for the money or a last shot at having people shout their name, but he was sincere.
I loved seeing The Chords at IoW because they were THE band for me in the mod years.
When did you first get to know the original VFM crew?
I got to know Nick Jolly in 1983 on an original Scootermania rally to Holland, and Lowie (Kev Lowe from Notts Britannia) the following year in Belgium. On those rallies because the numbers were smaller – maybe only 40 of us – it gave you a chance to properly get to know people.
When did you first get involved in organising scooter events?
Probably in about 1982. We got upset that the year ended after the last National Rally so we decided to tag one on the end and call it the North-West End of Year Rally (latterly held at Cala Gran in Fleetwood). It’s probably one of the longest running rallies now. We started off at Rhyl. It was all very ad hoc based around finding a venue and handing out as many cheaply produced flyers as possible.
Do you think that the British scooter Rallies Association (BSRA) fulfil a genuine need for ‘National’ rallies or do you think that this status is largely irrelevant considering that massive events like Mersea Island rally are not included?
I think the BSRA is important because you do need set rallies with that ‘National’ status. It’s important to have a good geographical spread so no matter where you are in the country there is always one big local rally to focus on. Events like Mersea and Run to the Shires are bigger than some Nationals but they are campsite-based events. The BSRA are trying to preserve the traditional seaside rallies. I know lads who’ll ride the length and breadth of the country to go to a National rally but won’t go to a local ride-out.
“I don’t care if people on the rallies have strong opinions
as long as they keep them to themselves”
What is VFM’s biggest success?
Probably Isle of Wight, but that means I can’t enjoy the rally as a normal scooterist. I usually don’t see anything except Smallbrook Stadium because there’s a massive amount of work that goes into it, and it just gets bigger each year.
The Las Vegas rally when around 500 Brits went was another success because there were so many crazy things that went on. You can try to repeat things like that but it’s very difficult to pull off as well a second time. Paris was good last year too – there’s only us that could arrange to go en masse to the city of romance when they are all rioting.
It’s good that we have forged ties with a lot of the foreign scooterists. There are a lot of the Belgian lads who come to all the rallies – even the pre-season to Llandudno.
What is your worst memory from the rally scene?
Probably the rise of the far right in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Friends of mine – black lads who rode scooters – were being attacked on the rallies by non-scooterists. People who we’d grown up with were becoming skinheads – right wing skinheads – and not wanting to know us anymore. Lads who’d been round my house five weeks earlier on scooters suddenly treating us as the enemy. Many people on the rallies now don’t know what a few bad years the whole scene went through then. The rallies were already under threat from the rave scene and every run you went on more people were deserting scootering. A lot of people don’t appreciate the debt that they owe to the people who made a stand against the far right and the idiots they brought along with them, and kept the rallies going.
Personally I don’t care if people on the rallies have strong opinions as long as they keep them to themselves. Some people inherit their opinions from their family or their background and you just have to accept that. I’d rather know someone with an opinion than someone without an opinion.
What makes you feel proud of the current scene though?
When we were in the church in Vegas for a scooterist wedding. The church was packed – standing room only – and the vicar said, “Can all the friends leave now please and only family stay behind”. Iggy stood up and said, “We are all family” and nobody left. I know it sounds cheesy but there’s a hardcore of scooterists that are so deep-rooted and go so far back with each other that they are like family.
In the past some clubs were very insular and stick together, and some people couldn’t understand why you were knocking about with people from other areas. You know, “Why are you drinking with them?” But it’s because they are friends and ‘friends’ isn’t defined by a geographical area. One of the good things about the scene now is that someone always knows someone from somewhere, and that makes it a darn sight easier to self-police and to keep the scene strong.
” ‘friends’ isn’t defined by a geographical area”
Please feel free to leave any memories of Jonny as a comment on this article below…